About

“Saying the Unsaid.”  What does that mean?

I have chosen that as the title of this blog for a simple reason.  I am not that motivated to express, and see no reason that people would be all that interested in, my thoughts on what are already the issues of the day.  Newspapers, magazines, internet blogs and other media all have comment fields, and if something I’m interested in is already being discussed there, that’s where I put in my two cents, either under my own name or a nom de guerre.  I feel no need to do so in my own blog.

What motivates me to research and write on public policy is those issues (or aspects of them) that are not being discussed, and those facts that are not being made readily available.  Particularly with regard to state and local government policy.  This blog is about trying to drive the agenda, not coming along for the ride.  I’m a natural at it, since one of my “faults” is that I’m not capable of thinking inside the box.

So who am I?

“Littlefield is a policy wonk.” That is how Erik Engquist, then a Brooklyn Politics columnist, described me when I ran as a minor party protest candidate for state assembly in 2004. While I may consider myself more of a moral philosopher, you will probably want to read posts based on my knowledge of comparative public finance, land use planning, regional economics and transportation. I will try to limit myself to pointing out things that I know that perhaps you don’t, but probably should, and to avoid topics where the reader knows more than I do.  Foreign policy, the military, and the “social issues” fall into the categories to be avoided.  So does politics as a matter of personality and gossip.  I don’t know those people, and they don’t know me.

I ran for office after years of mounting disappointment with public policy at the state level in New York, and increasing frustration that when I went to cast a vote for legislative offices, there was generally only one name on the ballot – or perhaps a second name of someone who didn’t even bother to campaign. Eventually just complaining and saying “someone should do something about this” seemed lazy and dishonest. The last straw was when my Assemblymember came to my neighborhood for a nonsense PR public meeting, I asked him if he could vote “no” if the next state budget continued contain certain very objectionable (possibly even to him) priorities, and (while not directly answering the question) he pretty much indicated that he could not. So I did my civic duty, and having done so (“sorry about the collapse of public services and the bankruptcy of the government kids, but Dad did all he could”), I can go back to complaining.

So what am I doing here?

Having tried to change the policies (and, more importantly, the principles or lack thereof behind those policies) every other way I could come up with (working in the bureaucracy, through an academic report, through letters to the editor, providing data to advocacy groups and journalists, and running as a candidate), I started to blog after having been invited to do so on Room Eight back in 2006.  But that group blog has run into increasing technical difficulties, so as a Christmas present my daughter set up this alternative site for me to post my unsaid facts and ideas.

On the technical side I have no idea what I am doing, and my daughter gave me a quick lesson and left town.  I have no idea why Room Eight has stopped working much of the time.  Is it under attack somehow?  The site owner says it needs maintenance, but why should a computer program need to be maintained?  Does it wear out?  For now, I will also post here what I try post there, so it can be found somewhere.  But since I have no idea what the problems are, I have no idea how long this alternative site will last.

Any information I have is free to all. I am not a lobbyist, paid political consultant, public employee (having been paroled after 20 years in government), or an employee of an organization that receives public funding or relies on public contracts. Nor am I a Democrat or Republican – for specific reasons in each case, which you can understand if you read the documents in the “Helpful Background and Greatest Hits” page on this site. I will post as work, family, and other commitments allow, and as I have something to say that I have not already beaten to death over the past nearly seven years.  The documents on the “Helpful Background and Greatest Hits” and “The Most Recent Public Finance Analyses, Charts and Tables” pages will stand in for the need for repetition.

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16 thoughts on “About

    1. larrylittlefield Post author

      I don’t know. Perhaps it was something I planned to read. It wasn’t anything I planned to write. I was advised by someone who writes for a living to blog instead. No on to argue with you about what not to say, no need to pay an agent for something that would never make money, publishers are in the blockbuster business, etc.

  1. Stevie

    Looks like California is catching up to NY. Recent article how city of Sacramento wants to renew a half cent sales tax and add another half cent, but city neglects to mention almost all will be devoted to pensions by 2025. Which is already 43 cents per dollar of salary for public safety employees, and 19 cents for other employees, slated to rise around 50% by 2025. In another article, the League of California Cities complains about pension costs rising an average of 11 to 16 cents per dollar in a similar period.

    Reply
  2. Stevie

    Loved the series on Social Security. The Greenspan commission was indeed a scam, obvious even at the time. After reading of the rescue plan, I recall thinking: is this farce the best a blue ribbon panel can come up with? By forcing boomers to finance their own and their parents retirement simultaneously? What happens when the SS bonds become due? And yet some contemporary politicians appear to suggest Treasury should just default on them, like no one would notice. No mere coincidence excess SS revenue offset progressive tax cuts. And the notion of a SS “lock box” is just plain hilarious.

    Benefits have effectively been cut already by raising full retirement age, and imposing a sort of means test by taxing benefits at “higher” incomes (using 30+ year old inflation unadjusted thresholds). Remember when SS and unemployment compensation were completely tax free?

    As for having SS reduction for those with public pensions, doesn’t the windfall elimination provision do that already?

    Reply
    1. larrylittlefield Post author

      The windfall provision prevents those who didn’t pay into Social Security as public employees, but got a pension, and then worked 10 years after, qualifying for the very generous minimum Social Security benefit, to receive it. It affects public employees who don’t get Social Security — which happens to be those at risk of getting really screwed.

      Most public employees receive an pension plus Social Security. The windfall provision doesn’t affect them.

  3. Stevie

    I can’t help but comment on the astonishing increase of debt to income ratio permitted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to 50%! Insane. When I was growing up, the age-old rule of thumb was never spend more than 3 times income on housing, preferably less. Which correlates to no more than 1/3 of income on debt. Never found out where this formula came from, but assumed from actuarial experience that exceeding this ratio increased default risk. Yet even at historically low interest rates, young people still struggling to afford housing. Renting not always a workaround, as rents are soaring in the more economically vibrant areas too.

    Reply
  4. Stevie

    You were wondering if Social Security earnings could shed light on generational income differences. Some academics confirmed your suspicion of generational income declines: http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/new-analysis-turns-up-surprise-on-long-term-wage-trends

    And another study using IRS tax data showing declining chances of exceeding parent’s earnings. Contemporary 30 somethings not doing well, maybe even worse off than grandparents? http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/opinion/the-american-dream-quantified-at-last.html

    Reply
    1. larrylittlefield Post author

      I did turn it on, but only for a limited period after each post goes up. Basically, on the blog site I formerly used, the comment field would get over-run with spam, and then the site started shutting down. Which is why I asked my daughter to create this one.

  5. Tom

    I’d like to see a chart, beginning in 1900, indicating growth of the tax base and growth of tax receipts against infrastructure spending. It’s easy to see how new infrastructure was funded in a time of rapid growth. It’s harder to see how infrastructure can be maintained in a slower growth environment.

    Reply
  6. candice braun

    I’m a little disappointed in your perspective about public education. Sure you have uncovered some discrepancies in amounts allocated versus real class size to support retiring teachers. However turning education into a cottage industry would be a disaster! Sure you are used to one accountant in a midsized company; however teaching is a social-activity. You need to go back to college to understand the impact and importance of group learning and peer-to-peer interactions. Students learn about culture, society, subject matters, perspectives, manners, decorum, routines, and all things interfacing with reality versus school in a protected limited sense by intelligent human design. Humans also have different learning intelligences, capabilities and tendencies. You can never generalize about what ought to be good for one (set of) students as applicable to another. Nor can you ever say it is all the parents or teachers or admin’s fault. This is the beauty of the public system, the American system has always functioned as a great equalizer of sorts. If you want to make, you can, and you still can to some extent. Also the detrimental effects of being “logged in all day” have not been studied from a biological health standpoint. Sure it cuts costs to stare at a screen all day long. Some kids can do that all day long, and then spend the balance of their time wanting to play games online. Their eyeballs and minds can be fried in the process but what the heck, right? It’s still saving us all some dough. Hey, why don’t you ever talk about the military expenditures we can be saving and lending that money back to education and infrastructure. Then we won’t have to do your plan. Have you considered hiring yourself out to Devos. She would love your simplistic view of helping save the pocketbook of America by turning everything into the great Cottage Industry of Education. Just saying. And I am a poorly paid substitute teacher by the way, but I rather do that, be able to get out to a campus than sit there plunking away with a student from China and worrying about downloading more bugs on my laptop. You know half the fun is getting to change your environment and interacting at a live-healthy authentic American campus, even if it’s just in surburbia somewhere as opposed to the huge Yuck Factor of the virtual world.

    Reply
    1. larrylittlefield Post author

      I don’t know where you are from. But read this for a little perspective.

      https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/the-2008-nyc-2555-united-federation-of-teachers-pension-deal-an-investigation/

      We’re beyond talking about “what’s best” in the wake of Generation Greed. The question is how can we get anything as an ever rising share of “public school” funding goes to public employee pensions. And, because of soaring senior benefits in general a shrinking share of public money goes to public schools.

      I’m not talking about tax cuts. I’m talking about younger generations paying higher taxes, having less left to spend and save, and still facing diminished public services, particularly in the schools. So we need radical ways around this.

  7. Valerie Cohen

    Hi Larry, I am looking for some information about how the MTA spends its money in terms of maintenance e.g. do they spend more on fixing the engine or the air conditioning, what months do they spend more on maintenance, etc. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. larrylittlefield Post author

      The best publicly available data would get no more detailed than money spent maintaining the cars as compared with the rights of way, stations, etc.

      The MTA may not even be able to answer that question. They bring the cars to the shop on a schedule. Perhaps in summer AC maintenance is part of the workload, whereas in winter it might be heat. But its the same workers doing the work. It’s more like there is a group of workers that works on electric engines, but AC is run by an electric engine too.

  8. Chris

    I’m a NYC firefighter with 15 years. I’m trying to find out if there is any way to buy back my remaining 5 years so I can take early retirement ?

    Can you be if any help with information.

    Thank You

    Reply
  9. ejhonda

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/updated-long-term-pension-data-for-new-york-and-new-jersey-the-large-plans-for-most-public-employees/#more-767 – you’ve inaccurately identified NYSLRS as “NYSTRS” in this article. NYSTRS is “NYS Teachers’ Retirement System”, the pension system covering NYS public teachers, when you’re referring to “NYSLRS”, or the NYS & Local Retirement System which covers NYS and local government employees.

    Reply

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